“‘Thwick a-Thwack’: Thomas Dekker’s Politics of Noise” Scott Trudell

Scott Trudell (English, University of Maryland) 
In his research and teaching, Trudell considers early modern literature, media theory, and music. Trudell is currently writing a book about song, mediation and poiesis from Shakespeare and Sidney to Jonson and Milton and has articles appearing in Shakespeare QuarterlyStudies in Philology and edited collections.

“Thwick a-Thwack”: Thomas Dekker’s Politics of Noise

In 1629, the dramatist Thomas Dekker and his partner, the “carver” (artisan/engineer) Garret Christmas, designed London’s annual Lord Mayor’s Show. This pageant through the streets of London was the City’s largest and most elaborate spectacle of the festival year. Livery companies spent lavishly on poets who composed allegorical verses, child actors dressed as mythological personae, mobile floats finely wrought with painting and gilding, and soundscapes full of trumpets, drums, fifes and gunfire. Poets often saw this cacophonous performance environment as a threat to their authorial and allegorical programs. Yet Dekker seems to celebrate the overwhelming noise of pageantry, using onomatopoetic lyrics to bring out the uproar of the crowd. The “concordant stroakes” of Dekker’s songs for the 1629 show meld with the drumming in and around the pageant floats, and the “Thunder and Lightning” that feature in Dekker’s verse merge with the fireworks and gunfire set off throughout the Lord Mayor’s Day. Dekker draws ambient noise into the core of his pageant’s symbolic design: he fully incorporates the carnivalesque atmosphere surrounding the pageant into its muthos (plot-structure). Using sound to revel in political upheaval and even military violence, Dekker uses the interdependence of writing and sound to articulate the relevance – and the threat – of poetry to livery companies and to the Crown.